Monday, 1 August 2011

'Shark Week' Returns to Discovery...But what Message is it Sending?

photo credit Discovery

Guys, it's back. It's Shark Week.

As a friend of mine put it quite nicely on Tumblr: "It's the most wonderful time of the year."

For a week every summer, sharks take center stage and thousands of crazed fans sit in front of their TVs and computers, eyes glued to the screens, waiting for the next clip of an airborne great white chomping the hell out of a seal, or for little nuggets of trivia for quiz nights at the pubs. Shark Week has exploded in popularity, and it's really impossible to not be aware of it's approach weeks before it's actually here. Even for losers like me without a TV. For a breif history on Shark Week, see last year's post here.

So - if we can be serious here for a minute - I took a look at this year's schedule and was instantly disappointed. There's still a HUGE focus on shark attacks and it still casts sharks in a pretty bad light. I'd like to take this moment to remind everyone that approximately 5 people are killed each year by sharks, while 100 million sharks are killed each year by people. They are not the deadly killers - we are. So it's really not fair to have all the focus on how they're the big murderers of the sea. It's misleading to the general public who might only know about sharks what Shark Week tells them.

image credit unknown; clickthrough for larger
(please alert me if you know!)

The headlining shows have titles like "Great White Invasion" and "Killer Sharks" (shown with a photo of a child in bloody water... mean, seriously.) Have a look at some of these descriptions and see for yourself:

December 1957: the height of tourist season in South Africa. Merry vacationers from around the globe descend on an idyllic resort town along the sunny coast to enjoy the summer. It's not long until the white sands are clogged with dead bodies and the sapphire waters are red with blood. The culprit? The authorities suspected a single, massive rogue shark with a taste for human flesh."

"The white sands are CLOGGED with dead bodies and the sapphire waters are red with blood"? Really?

A diver is caught in the mouth of a great white, and survives. A woman is caught in a tug-of-war between a shark and her rescue crew. Scientists are surrounded by sharks and one has his leg bitten off, but lives to defend the shark. These and more are the world's five most amazing shark attack survivor stories."

Then they have another called "Rouge Sharks" that pretty much turns "Jaws" into a documentary. Thanks guys.

I scroll down to the comments and I feel a bit better. Most of what I see is criticism for the hyped-up bloodthirsty portrayal of sharks when actually they're extremely sensitive and important players in balanced marine ecosystems. If you click back to last year's post, you'll see that Discovery was initially promoted as an educational network. The Shark Week line-up this year seems far from it - and at a time when shark numbers are plummeting due to the shark fin trade. Shame on Discovery for turning a blind eye to a species they're quite aware they can actually help and focusing still on the money-making stories of deadly encounters and vicious killers.

I do like to give everyone the benefit of the doubt, though, and assume that intentions are good and the raised awareness will help. I hope it does. But when people do things like the link I'm about to post, it banishes all doubt from my mind. Ignorance is bliss and sometimes people just suck.

Why would you post recipes for an endangered species during a week initially meant to raise awareness and educate people, Esquire?

I hate to be a party-pooper, but Shark Week has become a joke. you can't broadcast death and chaos for 55 minutes, and throw in a conservation message at the end while the credits have already begun to roll. It just doesn't work.

Now that you're all thoroughly bummed out by my stark realism...go play some shark games.

I turned myself into a shark:

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